We need to change the model of fast fashion. here’s how

Almost half of the world’s population now lives in households with sufficient discretionary income to qualify as a “middle class”. Driven in large part by an explosion in this part of society in India and China – which now extends to Southeast Asia – this trend may have gone unnoticed to some.

But what has not gone unnoticed is the net result of this titanic change in the way billions of people now live their lives.


Supermarkets are sanctuaries of choice. Our aisles are filled with countless types of bread, meat and produce – and that’s exactly what we eat.

The digital revolution has also improved and increased the availability of several options. Where television networks, movie studios and record labels once ruled, my generation consumes digital content through unlimited choices provided by subscription providers like Netflix and Spotify, not to mention a range of digital platforms. free online music streaming.

But an important question to ask is whether this abundance of choice generates additional utility in our lives. On a more human level, does having easy access to more options make us happier?

Mode: fast and linear

The modern phenomenon of fast fashion was born out of our desire to have the latest fashions faster and at a lower price. This has led to shorter lead times for producers and carriers, as well as for retailers. The clothes are mass produced at breakneck speed and then shipped to retailers who have a limited window to sell them before the next shipment arrives. The result? Tons and tons of unsold clothes.

According to the Ellen McArthur Foundation, a garbage truck of textiles (approximately 12 to 14 tonnes) is wasted every second. In July 2018, fashion brand Burberry faced global outrage when it was revealed that it had burned nearly $ 40 million worth of unsold clothing and other luxury items in an attempt to ‘prevent unwanted inventory from being sold at lower prices.

Unsold clothes are just the tip of the iceberg. Even though production volumes have increased, clothing usage – the number of times clothes are worn before being thrown away – is declining. While the global average in 2016 was around 120 uses per garment (up from 200 uses in 2002), China has seen a dramatic drop to 62 uses, while the United States has consistently had an average of 40 uses. The reality is that discarded clothing would not be such a problem if the industry had an established infrastructure for recycling old clothing. It is estimated that only 13% of the total material going into the production of new clothing comes from post-use recycled materials.

Finally, the clothing production process itself is often viewed as resource intensive, unnecessary and wasteful. According to the report cited above, if nothing changes, the industry’s carbon emissions will continue to increase and occupy more than a quarter of the carbon budget for a 2˚C scenario.

The solution: redesigning fashion

According to the Pulse of the Fashion Industry report – published in 2017 by the Global Fashion Agenda and the Boston Consulting Group – sourcing from more renewable sources, implementing innovation in manufacturing processes and solving various social issues such as as labor practices in their supply chains. could generate $ 192 billion for the global economy in 2030. The opportunity is huge.

But solving the problem will not be easy. Both practical and emotional factors come into play in any attempt to change behavior. With billions of people in developing economies entering the middle class for the first time, with the firm intention of buying both what they need and what they want, it is unlikely that we will change the way. consumer behavior at the scale and pace required.

The industry also employs around 300 million people along the value chain. Any proposed solution must take into account the need and the right of people to develop and improve their lives and to be part of global transactions. So what are the avenues available to solve the problem?

First, we need to solve the problem on the supply side of fashion. Over 63% of existing textile fiber supply chains are made of synthetics such as polyester and acrylic. Although they are less expensive than organic materials, synthetics are fossil-based, non-biodegradable, and difficult to recycle. An industry with a high synthetic content will also generate plastic microfibers that will end up in our oceans.

Instead, we need to turn to circular, biodegradable and natural fibers – produced and sourced responsibly.

As producers of viscose rayon, Sateri and Asia Pacific Rayon (APR) manufacture a product made from 100% wood cellulose. Our goal is to offer biodegradable and natural fibers on a scale that can gradually wean us off from synthetics of fossil origin. Made up of natural plant polymers, viscose rayon is biodegradable and breaks down naturally. Viscose rayon also comes from sustainably managed tree plantations – a renewable resource, typically harvested on a five to seven year cycle. The production process also uses less water than cotton.

Second, we need to find a way to make the industry more circular and encourage consumers to replace today’s throwaway culture with one that values ​​recycling and long-term use. Supply chains need to be incentivized to produce purer garment blends to make recycling easier – meaning clothing construction and deconstruction needs to be built into the design process, not an afterthought.

Third, we must not make the same mistake as other industries in which manufacturers shorten the cycle of their products. In the future, clothes made from recycled fibers should not be seen as inferior by consumers, and therefore sold at a reduced price. For recycled textile fiber to develop on a large scale, we must give a boost by encouraging up-cycling. In this scenario, market forces would determine a premium for the recycled textile fiber that ends up in the clothes we wear.

Understanding Change Choices

I asked earlier: are we really happier when we have easy access to more options?

Fashion provides both utility and expression in our daily life. Understanding the choices we have in the natural fiber sector is indeed important, as each has its own strengths and weaknesses. But what we can no longer debate is that now is the time to move on to a textile system capable of embracing and incorporating changes that improve societal and environmental outcomes – for the betterment of my generation and of those to come.

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Joseph E. Golightly